As the New Year begins, our region continues to see slow but steady economic growth. The national unemployment rate has hit a five-year low, and throughout New England, employers are adding to their workforces.
In 2013, leaders in Washington struggled to reach a compromise on critical fiscal issues. The year ended, however, on an encouraging note as Congress forged a bipartisan budget.
We hope that we will see more of this willingness to compromise in the year ahead, and the New England Council believes there are several areas where such bipartisan congressional action could foster economic growth.
Immigration reform: A major challenge for many New England employers is a shortage of skilled workers in the STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Yet these are the fields where we expect to see the most growth in the years ahead. It is estimated that by 2018, there will be 300,000 open STEM jobs just in Massachusetts. The Senate took significant strides toward addressing this problem last year, passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation. The bill increases the cap on H-1B visas, allowing more foreign-born STEM workers to remain in the U.S., and reallocates fees from those visas to support STEM education to develop a domestic pipeline of STEM workers.
Unfortunately, immigration reform efforts stalled in the House of Representatives in 2013. We urge the House to act in 2014 to address the shortage of highly skilled STEM workers, helping our region’s many high-tech employers to grow and thrive.
Energy efficiency: A significant issue for New England businesses is the high cost of energy. One way to address long-term energy costs is to increase efficiency. Last year, New England’s Sen. Jeanne Shaheen partnered with Ohio Senator Rob Portman to introduce bipartisan, deficit-neutral legislation to do just that. Their bill creates a national strategy to increase the use of energy-efficiency technologies through a national model building energy code, and creates a financing program for commercial building efficiency projects.
Though debated in the Senate in 2013, it was not put to a vote. We are hopeful that the Senate will return to this important legislation and that the House will take action to increase energy efficiency and lower costs.
Investment in research: Through cutting-edge research initiatives, New England’s prestigious universities and teaching hospitals produce many transformative breakthroughs in energy, medicine, defense and technology. These institutions rely on funding from a variety of federal agencies to conduct this research — funding that has been cut significantly in recent years. The research conducted in our region leads to new innovations, and it has a remarkable economic impact.
Investing in research is investing in job creation and economic growth. The recent budget compromise was a positive step, restoring a significant portion of the sequestration cuts. We hope Congress will invest more federal funds in research — an investment that will yield tremendous returns.